PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (June 24, 2011) — Life has become complicated for 16-year-old Clodine *.
Six months pregnant and HIV-positive, she lives in a dirt-floor tent with her aunt in a camp for displaced people. A few months ago, she left her boyfriend, who gave her HIV and is the father of her child.
"I broke up with my boyfriend because he carried a gun and lived a life of crime, even killing people," she says. "My mother didn't want me to stay with him."
Clodine says she'll share her story, but on the condition that her identity be concealed. Like many Haitians who are HIV positive, she fears being stigmatized because of her status. Her father died during the devastating January 2010 earthquake. It also destroyed her home and since then she hasn't attended school.
The one bright spot in her life at the moment is a UNICEF-supported clinic that diagnosed her HIV status early. It's called Community Clinic of Martissant, and it's one of 13 institutions that are part of a network supported by The Foundation for Haitian Family Development.
It was founded in 2000, and offers a range of health services focused primarily on maternal and child health. "This clinic is helping me by giving me free medicine for my HIV, by making sure that I am healthy, and by giving me food," Clodine says.
The clinic, which has received support from UNICEF since 2005, offers general consultations; ante-natal, childbirth and post-natal care; pediatric care and family planning. It also has an on-site laboratory and pharmacy.
Mothers-to-be typically receive a package of services, including ante-natal care, counseling and testing for syphilis and HIV. The World Food Programme helps provide nutritional support.
UNICEF and its partners know that HIV is part of every emergency and that it's crucial to maintain HIV services, including eliminating new HIV infections in infants and children. Since the earthquake, providing such services to women has been one the UNICEF Haiti's priorities.
"We are working with our partners to alleviate the suffering of this population, to try to improve access to care, treatment and support to women and children, particularly in the area of prevention of mother to child transmission," says UNICEF HIV/AIDS Specialist Youssouf Sawadogo.
The community clinic where Clodine receives treatment sees as many as 500 pregnant women each month—not all of them HIV-positive. The services in the ante-natal clinic are free to access.
UNICEF is supporting the clinic to improve the care of pregnant women and pediatric HIV care by funding training sessions to strengthen providers' skills. In addition, some 60 HIV positive pregnant women have benefited from anti-retroviral medications with support from UNICEF since 2010.
Out in the community, women like Clodine face many obstacles, including coping with the continued stigma of being HIV positive. For now, she's keeping her status a secret.
Living in a camp further complicates matters, as it increases risks and the vulnerability of affected women and children.
"If we don't do anything, these women and children will not have equitable access to care and treatment," explains Sawadogo, "and that's why we are trying, with our partners, to improve and bring services to these camps and try to make this aftermath of the earthquake more bearable."
The years ahead will prove challenging for women like Clodine. Protecting their health and the health of their babies is one challenge that must be met head-on.
* Not her real name